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All 30 Unapproved Projects Suspended
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On Wednesday, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) issued a statement by Vice Minister Pan Yue saying that all 30 of the environmentally unapproved projects it had publicized on January 18 have now ceased construction.

The projects, involving billions of US dollars in 13 provinces and municipalities, were accused of starting work before their environmental impact assessment reports were approved by authorities, contravening laws in place since September 2003.

On January 24, the SEPA announced that work on 22 had frozen, but that eight had still not complied.

These included the biggest project on the administration's original list: the Xiluodu Hydropower Plant, which is on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and involves investment of over 44 billion yuan (US$5.3 billion).

It was one of three hydropower plants run by the China Three Gorges Project Corporation that did not respond to the environmental regulator's initial call to halt operations.

Pan said that the eight are now awaiting approval of their assessment documents.

Shu Jianmin, director of the Chinese Academy of Environmental Sciences' environmental impact assessment center, said the move showed a strengthening in law enforcement. It is not that the companies do not have an awareness of environmental protection, Shu said, but a question of compliance.

Liao Xiaoyi, president of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Village of Beijing, said she was "delighted" at hearing the news.

"The storm has taken effect at last," she said, adding that she had doubted whether all 30 projects could be stopped because they are large ventures.

Liao said that public participation in environmental impact assessment should be reinforced, too.

Last Thursday, the SEPA also blacklisted 46 coal-fired power plants, ordering them to install desulfurization equipment as previously agreed and warning legal action should they fail to do so.

China's air and water quality remains amongst the worst in the world. The crackdown has been initiated as central government tries to rein in growth and curb investment, especially in the power sector, for sustainable economic growth.

The SEPA and National Development and Reform Commission have also issued a joint notice on environmental protection during the building of hydropower plants.

It was welcomed as a big step forward by Wang Yongchen, founder of the Beijing-based NGO Green Earth Volunteers, who stressed the importance of written policies being put into practice.

She said it was good to see development and reform authorities recognizing that economic development needs to be balanced with environmental concerns for sustainability.

(China Daily February 3, 2005)

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